Last week, history was made.
I love Jerusalem. It is holy, sacred, ancient and full of life. Jerusalem always has been, is, and always will be Israel’s capital.
While I was thrilled to see the United States, our strongest ally, recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital by moving its Embassy there, this was also a tough week. Excitement in reaffirming Israel’s sovereignty and ancient Jewish ties to our land was mixed with fear, concern and pain for lives lost in the heartbreaking violence at Israel’s border.
We witness the complexity of Israel – in one city a thoroughly organized ceremony of a western country moving its embassy, while 50 miles away, thousands gather and try to break the border fence into sovereign territory.
My role as Shlichah in Colorado can best be defined as a living bridge. I work to bring understanding between Israel and Colorado. I am not a Middle East expert but an Israeli educator who loves my country and my people deeply and is also very connected to Colorado’s community.
The impact of the U.S. Embassy relocation on the peace process and on Israel’s standing in the international community will unfold in days to come. Israeli support for this decision is not about support for one president or another. Rather, it is more about fulfilling a crucial part of Zionism – for Israel to become a nation like all others, with a self-determined and internationally accepted capital.
Life and survival for the Jewish people is another crucial part of Zionism. Every Friday for the past several weeks, Hamas has mobilized thousands of demonstrators on a ‘march of return’ toward Israel. This march is many things: an attempt to invade internationally recognized Israeli land; a demonstration about living conditions in Gaza; an attempt to terrorize Israeli families living 10 minutes from the fence; protests about Israel’s control of Gaza’s border crossings; and the embassy relocation.
For Israelis, the weekly events accompanied by firebombs, burning kites dispatched into Israeli fields, and breakthroughs by small groups into Israeli territory are a serious threat. Witness testimonies show the strategic coordination that Hamas undertook with a goal of infiltrating and terrorizing Israeli communities. Unfortunately, terrorist enclaves exist today on almost every one of Israel’s borders and it is the role of the Israeli Defense Forces to keep Israeli families safe and make sure borders are not breached. Reports coming out this week show how strategically and carefully decisions were made. Over the past weeks I reached out to personal friends serving at the border to learn as much as I could. I can honestly say I have full confidence in the way decisions involving human life were made and the effort to minimize casualties, react and stop these who attempt to breach the border without harming the protesters around them.
The timing of all this is a perfect storm. In addition to the embassy move, last week also marked Jerusalem Day, commemorating liberation of the old city of Jerusalem; the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel; the beginning of Ramadan; and the Palestinian “Nakba,” considered the catastrophe of Israel’s establishment. These demonstrations in Gaza would likely have taken place even if the U.S. Embassy would have moved another day or not moved at all.
Interestingly, overall reactions to the embassy move in the Arab world and on the Palestinian street are surprisingly calm, apart from some heated rhetoric by certain regional leaders. We have yet to see violent demonstrations in the West Bank or East Jerusalem. Still, we have reason to worry and I fear an even greater escalation of violence may be coming to that area.
At this time many Jews in Colorado are thinking about how to engage with all of this. People are sharing how confused and torn they feel. Supporting the embassy move does not mean we can’t have doubts about timing or process. Realizing Israel’s duty to defend her citizens does not mean we do not feel the pain of lives lost or have self-doubt about what could have been done or should be done in the future to save more lives. Many Israelis across the political spectrum are also having trouble deciding what to say or do about all this.
Most importantly, unclear times are not a time for disconnect from the community but a reason to engage more deeply. Love and support for Israel does not come with the pre-condition of always feeling good about every decision or agreeing among ourselves. The best thing we can do to ensure a strong Israel and strong Jewish future is continue our conversation, even when we disagree and when discussions are hard and painful.
The story of Israel, of Jerusalem, is our story. We started to write it long ago and need the strength of our diversity and unity to write the incredible future chapters of the Jewish people.